Bangkok, October 30, 2017--Myanmar authorities charged two foreign reporters on assignment for Turkish state broadcaster TRT, along with their interpreter and driver, of allegedly violating import-export laws after the journalists flew a drone near the country's parliament building, according to news reports. The Committee to Protect Journalists today called on Myanmar authorities to immediately release the reporting team and drop all charges against them.
According to news reports, police on October 27 detained the two journalists Mok Choy Lin, a Malaysian national, and Lau Hon Meng, a Singaporean citizen, along with their interpreter, Aung Naing Soe, and driver Hla Tin. Authorities then charged the group with violating Section 8 of Myanmar's Import Export Law, which does not specifically refer to drones, according to the news reports.
On October 27, after the group's detention, authorities raided the home of Aung Naing Soe, who is also a local reporter, searched documents, and confiscated computer memory sticks, reports said.
According to the television station Channel News Asia, the group's trial will begin after a 15-day remand period.
If found guilty of the charges, they each face a maximum of three years in prison, the reports state.
The arrests come amid an escalating clampdown on press freedom under de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi's elected government.
"Journalists Mok Choy Lin and Lau Hon Meng, their interpreter and driver should all be immediately and unconditionally released," said Shawn Crispin, CPJ's senior Southeast Asia representative. "These arrests and the raid of Aung Naing Soe's home speak to the continuing deterioration of conditions for the press in Myanmar."
A police spokesperson said the journalists had "illegally imported the drone," according to the BBC.
Authorities have been holding Lin and Meng Naypyidaw's police station No. 1 in the capital Naypyitaw and transferred the two Myanmar nationals to a prison in a town nearby, according to Reuters. Myanmar authorities have not allowed family members to visit, the Associated Press reported.
Myanmar authorities have detained and arrested several journalists on defamation charges filed under the 2013 Telecommunications Act's section 66d, a criminal provision that allows for prison terms for "defamation" or "disturbances" spread over telecom networks, according to CPJ research.
News reports noted Lin and Meng's arrests also come against the backdrop of bilateral tensions between Turkey and Myanmar over Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan's comments in September that Myanmar's repression of ethnic Rohingya Muslims constituted "genocide." Myanmar has consistently denied the charges.